The Curious Case Of Kessel And The Coyotes

In today’s big Penguins news: Everyone’s favorite yapping hockey lunkhead Jeremy Roenick is claiming he somehow knows that Phil Kessel will only consent to being traded to go play in Arizona. ...Yep! That's really illogical for several reasons based on prior reports we know of and the facts of the situation. So let's examine and elaborate on them.

1. Phil has told the Penguins directly that he only wants to go to a "contending" team should he leave Pittsburgh.

That’s per solid gold source in The Athletic's Michael Russo, one of the best NHL reporters out there. The message was conveyed by Kessel when he reportedly nixed a trade to the Minnesota Wild over that aspect. Now calling Arizona a contender in any way is laughable. The ‘Yotes currently have missed the playoffs for 7 straight seasons. That’s the second worst streak in the league, behind only the Sabres. Looking further back they’ve only made the playoffs 3 times in the last decade. They’ve never seen a Cup Final in their 23 years of existence as a Phoenix based team. They have a legacy of losing by any metric. And since Phil has a modified "No Trade Clause" that ensures he can only be traded to one of 8 teams of his choosing what he says is what goes. He has the right to insist on a "contender" and Arizona as contenders is a stretch. Calling Arizona good bets to even make the playoffs is a stretch.

2. More of that report stated Phil was concerned about who could adequately feed him pucks in Minnesota.

Again the Coyotes offerings would extremely subpar in that department. Their current #1 center by their lines is Derek Stepan. Not exactly league leading quality playmaker by general opinion and that’s backed up by the cold hard stats too. Stepan has been steadily declining in production year by year since his career high of 22 goals while with the Rangers in 2015-16. His career high in points was 57, back 5 years ago. Last season he only managed to produce 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 total points. On Kessel's part last season his puck feeder was generally Evgeni Malkin. Who obviously scored significantly more than 35 points and always does.

Beyond Stepan, Arizona's other centers are either mostly unknown quantities or on the decline veterans. They include younger players Christian Dvorak and Nick Cousins. And a 34-year-old, “seen better days” type in Brad Richardson. Again these are not exactly the most fantastic options to dazzle a top tier talent.

3. Roenick also claims that Phil Kessel wants to go to the Coyotes alone to reunite with former Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet.

That’s also a problematic notion considering Tocchet is on an short leash in AZ and his job could soon be in jeopardy should he start off poorly in Glendale this season. He’s at 2 full seasons coached with lousy results. That is the typical length of time before a coach, especially a brand new one, starts coming under scrutiny by team management.

While he has done as good as anyone would expect with the box of spare parts that is Arizona’s NHL roster, in a tale is as old as the game itself we know the coach is always first on the chopping block in an disorderly organization when things are just not working. And in his 2 years in Arizona Tocchet has missed the playoffs twice and finished last in his conference once.

Rick Tocchet is also still the young Coyotes’ GM John Chayka’s first head coach hire. Tocchet has had 2 years to get results and hasn’t. Chayka himself is obviously looking to keep his own job for as long as possible and will certainly replace his first non-performing coach as a fix attempt in due course. He'll have to try something new at head coach before giving the team ownership a chance to rethink his own tenure instead. And GMs tend to get more time to work things out than coaches. Axing a general manager is akin to blowing up your entire organizational structure, while axing the coach is much more isolated, surgical fix.

It’s a situation comparable to that of Jason Botterill’s and the Buffalo Sabres. Fellow first time general manager Botterill just fired his first coach Phil Housley after the same 2 year window. Housley had almost identical results to that of Tocchet over the same period- both finished dead last in their division and conferences in their first year and not much better the second, scraping together slightly higher finishes. Arizona jumped to 4th in their division, Buffalo to 6th. Those 2 places higher were the slight margin of difference that kept Tocchet’s job, whereas Housley was canned. But obviously any job kept by a razor thin margin isn’t very secure.

At least not secure enough to spur Kessel to accept an exit from the cushy confines of recent back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions stocked with superstar talent. And just to be shipped off to Stanley Cup strangers who have less talent on their actual playing roster than they do in the cache of retired star players' contracts they keep on the books just to meet the league's salary cap floor.

4. As is evident by the above, none of this assertion by Jeremy Roenick makes much sense.

It's key to note Roenick is a TV presenter, not an actual NHL reporter. And his history of questionable statements and opinions is quite infamous. An additional significant aspect here is his well-known affiliation with the Coyotes franchise from his playing days there. He is one of the team's most famous alumnus and played there for 6 seasons over 2 different stints. Roenick has been inducted into their "Ring of Honor" and the Coyotes' have retired his number (he's 1 of only 4 AZ era players who ever had their number retired by the team). He still lives in the area and is essentially an unofficial ambassador for them. Any impartiality on his part is impossible. That potential agenda is what screams out the loudest to me in this entire situation.

This sounds a lot like simple wishful thinking by Roenick and maybe some in the Coyotes staff community. An contrived play to have loose cannon and media connected Roenick float this claim, either wittingly or not, to try to capture Kessel and the Pens' attention. An overture to attempt to get into these talks or get them heated up. That’s how these things are played sometimes, especially with big star players. You leak interest, leak terms, and hope it moves the market or player in your favor. But this is one mountain that is simply too large to realistically surmount.

Why Kessel would be interested in Arizona in any way is beyond me. Breaking down the specifics cements that in my mind. Especially because Phil Kessel still has years of high level hockey to play which would be wasted in the desert.

What the Penguins would want from Arizona short of their top player Oliver Ekman-Larsson boggles the mind as well. (And OEL comes with major drawbacks of his own- a no movement clause, a steep cap $8.25M hit, and contract running until for 8 more years until he’s age 36.) Like I said the Coyotes' arsenal is not exactly deep in the type of talent the Pens would want in return for a top caliber point-per-game player.

All in all, this sudden claim of Kessel wanting to go to the Arizona Coyotes seems more like Jeremy Roenick fan-fic than feasible in any realistic way. It also doesn't seem very beneficial for anyone but the Coyotes either, Kessel included.

It’s just the latest twist in this increasingly ludicrous saga that is the Penguins’ Phil Kessel trade exploration. A drama which is becoming the most exhausting Pens story in recent years. All of this and we’re not even into the month of June yet!

This is shaping up to be a long summer for us Penguins fans.

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